Shocked, But Not Surprised

This morning’s news was consumed by stories about the shooting at the Congressional baseball practice.  This was a horrible incident, and my heart goes out to those injured.  I wish them a speedy recovery.

I am both shocked and saddened, but there really is no surprise.  An angry despair has spread across America.  A despair caused not by some external influence, but one from within.  Once one of the most respected institutions on Earth, our Congress has devolved into nothing more than a bickering, partisan mess driven by systemic corruption and lack of integrity, with members worried more about campaign contributions than solving the country’s problems.  Their approval ratings are at historic lows.

This is being felt internationally as well.  A friend in Germany recently said to me, “… there is some sort of vacuum where US leadership used to be. And that is a potentially dangerous situation. … the new star is China. [The US has] handed world leadership to them on a platter. And they gratefully accept since they anyhow see these last few hundred years as a fluke. Otherwise China always has been the greatest nation in the world.  So that’s where we’ll all have to look in the future.”

I believe incidents like yesterday’s shooting are driven by a sense of hopelessness, a feeling that we can’t fix this.  A lack of hope causes people to either give up or it drives them to extreme actions. We are seeing both.  Initial reports of the shooter indicate he was emotionally distraught, in part due to this governmental chaos and associated divisive rhetoric.

As expected, we are already hearing about how to provide better security for members of Congress, including increased police and Secret Service details.  It seems to me, however, the best security would be obtained simply by Congress cleaning up their mess.  Maybe by becoming respectable again, by eliminating the corruption, stopping the petty politics, and getting back to actually working for America (and setting a good example for the world) fewer people would be compelled to violence through desperation.  And just think of the problems we could solve.




Thinking Pragmatically

IMG_0684 r2

In light of the recent rise in world terrorism and mass shootings in the United States, it’s almost impossible not to think about gun control and the resulting swirling controversy. Everyone has a strong opinion, and the two sides seem to be as divided as ever. On one side are the folks who want all civilian firearms destroyed and banned forever, and on the other are those who will only relinquish their guns when they are pried from their cold, dead hands. Personally, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

I’m not a gun nut and don’t have a bunker in my basement stockpiled for the apocalypse, but I have been shooting since the age of six or seven and am fairly familiar with firearms. Not counting the sticks we used as kids to play war in the woods, my first ‘gun’ was a chrome-plated Mattel Shootin’ Shell Snub-nose .38 toy revolver that shot caps and plastic bullets. That was followed shortly by a Daisy Defender air rifle (BB gun) that our father bought to teach my brother and I how to shoot safely, and then membership in a gun club where we spent a winter shooting .22 target rifles to earn awards for marksmanship. Since then I have continued to shoot, doing some small game hunting and plinking targets for fun with both handguns and rifles. I know there are quite a few people like this out there.

Though there has been that rare occasion when I was glad there was a gun nearby, I’ve typically felt very safe in this country, and the guns I’ve owned have always been unloaded and locked up when not in use. … Fast forward to today’s insanity.  Watching the nearly continuous media frenzy of the latest terrorist attack or mass shooting of the week, there is always one thought that runs through my mind:  I have to believe that every victim of those attacks wished there were people present who could have immediately returned fire.

I don’t know what the answer is, but completely disarming the general population will not help.  Though I fully agree with common sense gun laws, including banning assault rifles, requiring full background checks, and instituting waiting periods, there is much truth to the old adage that when you outlaw guns, only the outlaws will have guns. Criminals and terrorists don’t give a damn about the law, and they will always be able to obtain or manufacture weapons.  We shouldn’t make it even easier for them to do harm.

This country has a grassroots history of fighting back when we get smacked, and that is a large part of our culture. It’s one of the primary ways we have maintained our free and open society.  Now I certainly don’t want every citizen in America walking around with a sidearm, but the evil people committing these atrocities are choosing schools, social service centers, gun-free zones on military bases, and places of worship where there is little chance of resistance. They want to kill a lot of people before they themselves are ‘martyred’ by  the police, or they expect to get away before the armed authorities arrive, which almost always takes too long. What we need are near-term solutions that make it highly likely these sick individuals will be stopped within seconds of starting their violence.